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News / Clark County News

Clark County jury finds Warren Forrest guilty in 1974 murder

Serial killer convicted in cold case murder of teenage girl

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: February 1, 2023, 5:17pm
5 Photos
Norma Countryman Lewis, left, and Mollie Morrison embrace after the guilty verdict is read in Warren Forrest's 1974 cold-case murder trial.
Norma Countryman Lewis, left, and Mollie Morrison embrace after the guilty verdict is read in Warren Forrest's 1974 cold-case murder trial. (Jessica Prokop/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

After deliberating for only about 90 minutes, a jury found Warren Forrest guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder in his 1974 cold case. With this second murder conviction, the former Battle Ground man is no longer a “suspected” serial killer; he now meets the FBI’s definition.

The Clark County Superior Court jury started deliberating at 3:35 p.m. and was to be excused for the day at 5 p.m. But when the judge reconvened court to send them home, jurors asked for five more minutes. The verdict was read shortly after.

An investigator on the case said it was the fastest verdict he’d ever seen in his career.

Forrest, 73, was convicted in the slaying of 17-year-old Martha Morrison of Portland. Her remains were discovered Oct. 12, 1974, by members of a hunting party in a densely wooded area of Dole Valley in eastern Clark County. They were not identified until July 2015, however.

Michael Morrison, the victim’s half brother, and Norma Countryman Lewis, who survived an attack by Forrest also in 1974, clutched hands in the gallery as the verdict was read.

“My initial feeling was elation. … I didn’t realize until they read the verdict how scared I was that it might go the other way,” Countryman Lewis said in an interview after the verdict. She clutched her chest as her voice choked.

Michael Morrison said he’s relieved.

“I’m the last one of our family. … I was told by my mother to find my sister one way or the other, and I said yes, I will,” he said in an interview. “I’m elated that they were willing to put this up for us and help us get closure on this thing.”

Forrest — who is already serving a prison term for the 1974 murder of 20-year-old Krista Blake — will be sentenced in this case Feb. 17.

This murder charge came following a breakthrough in Morrison’s cold case. Blood found on an air pistol Forrest used to torture another woman in October 1974 was identified as Morrison’s.

“Nearly 50 years after Martha Morrison was murdered, justice has finally been done. We are thankful for the jury’s time, effort and attention to a case that has a lot of meaning to a lot of people,” the prosecution said in a written statement after the verdict.

DNA evidence

During closing arguments Wednesday afternoon, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd pointed to advancements in DNA science that led to Martha Morrison’s remains being identified.

“DNA has also identified her killer,” she said.

She told jurors they know what happened to Morrison.

“You know that this happened, because when Warren Forrest gives a ride to a 15- to 20-year-old girl that he doesn’t know, his intent is to murder them,” Boyd said.

Boyd urged jurors to look at the similarities between the circumstances in Morrison’s case and Forrest’s other known victims.

Morrison’s remains were found in a remote area of eastern Clark County, as were Blake’s.

Forrest was on the prowl and took any opportunity he could to lure girls and young women into his light blue van, Boyd argued. He tied them up. He drove them to remote areas in eastern Clark County. He sexually assaulted them.

In Blake’s case, he strangled her to death when she fought back. In Countryman Lewis’ case, she escaped. In the case of a 20-year-old Camas woman, she survived.

“This is how he left them,” Boyd said, showing a slide of Morrison’s skull and Blake’s gravesite, as well as the physical injuries Countryman Lewis and the Camas woman suffered in their attacks.

“You know he followed the pattern with Martha that he followed with his other victims,” Boyd said. “It’s what happened to Norma Jean Countryman. It’s what happened to (the Camas woman). It’s what happened to Krista Blake.”

She argued the jury also heard it in Forrest’s own words. Boyd played audio clips from a 2014 parole board hearing, in which Forrest admitted to the attacks against Blake, Countryman Lewis and the Camas woman.

Boyd also urged the jury to consider Morrison’s age, in respect to the other victims, and the timeline of Forrest’s attacks; Morrison went missing in the middle of those attacks.

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But, perhaps most importantly, Boyd asked the jury to consider a dart gun Forrest used to torture Blake and the Camas woman — the same dart gun found in a footlocker in his van in October 1974.

Boyd said it’s not a mistake holes found in Blake’s shirt were consistent with dart punctures, that Forrest used a dart gun to torture the Camas woman, that the gun was found in his van the next day or that Morrison’s blood was on the gun.

“It’s not a mistake because this is his plan,” she said.

The only way Morrison’s blood could have gotten on the dart gun, she argued, is if he used it on her.

A forensic scientist with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Vancouver testified Wednesday morning the partial DNA profile she generated from blood on the gun’s grip matched the partial DNA profile from Morrison’s remains — a probability of 1 in 30 billion.

Defense doubts

Still, defense attorney Sean Downs argued prosecutors had not met their burden of proof.

“Probably is not good enough in a criminal case,” he reminded the jury during closing arguments.

He said prosecutors had not answered the when, where and how of the case.

Downs argued the jury didn’t hear the exact day Morrison went missing, where she died or how she died. He also said the jury never heard about any link between Forrest and Morrison; they were “perfect strangers.”

“It’s just unknown, so we’re left to speculate,” he said of Morrison’s cause of death.

He further argued that despite similarities between Morrison’s case and Forrest’s other known victims, differences exist. Morrison’s remains were found in a different area, not associated with Clark County parks. (Forrest worked for the parks department.)

The only evidence, he said, was Morrison’s blood on the dart gun, but it doesn’t tell the jury how she died or if she was tortured.

In the prosecution’s rebuttal, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Aaron Bartlett said the dart gun is the best evidence.

“It’s almost the smoking gun, the bloody knife,” he argued.

Waiting for answers

Despite testifying at Blake’s murder trial in 1979, Forrest did not take the stand Wednesday.

But people, such as Starr Lara, are still waiting for answers.

“All I want is the truth, just the simple truth,” she said outside the Clark County Courthouse. “You’re not getting out, just tell the truth.”

Forrest has long been suspected in her sister’s disappearance. Jamie Grissim, 16, disappeared Dec. 7, 1971, after leaving class at Fort Vancouver High School.

“Justice for her is as much as the rest of us can get now,” Lara said of the verdict in Morrison’s case. “We can rest easy and never have to hear from him again.”

In addition to Grissim, Forrest is believed to be responsible for the abduction and slaying of at least three other women in Clark County in the 1970s, and he is a person of interest in another missing-person case.

Countryman Lewis said for her it’s that Forrest can “firmly go down in history as a serial killer, instead of an alleged or suspected serial killer. Hopefully, he will no longer be Washington’s forgotten serial killer.”

“I hope we can get some closure from him on the other suspected victims,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”